By Rich Pollack
A group of dog owners buoyed by a Delray Beach Parks and Recreation Department plan to create a dog beach during a six-month trial suffered a setback when the department’s director reversed course, saying dogs romping through the sand could pose a health risk to beachgoers.
“Recent information regarding specific parasitic conditions which could be acerbated by the presence of dogs, has caused me to change my recommendation,” said Delray Beach Parks and Recreation Director Suzanne Fisher.
Fisher, who according to the city manager’s office is now officially on leave, recommended in March that the city conduct a pilot program for a dog beach. The plan would have allowed for a small portion of the city’s public beach, at Atlantic Dunes Park, to be cordoned off during early morning and late afternoon hours three days a week and available to dogs and their owners.
Under that proposal, the 30,000-square-foot dog beach would be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday for two hours in the morning — from 7 to 9 — and three hours in the afternoon ending at sunset. A park ranger would ensure that all dogs were licensed and had proper shots.
Before going on leave, however, Fisher issued a memo saying her department concluded that some parasites in dogs could be transmitted to humans if larvae shed in feces were to contaminate sand and then penetrate unprotected skin. The larvae can persist for three or four weeks in favorable conditions, she said.
“While staff’s initial recommendation was to support a pilot program, after additional research regarding Cutaneous larva migrans and Ancylostoma braziliense, due to sand/soil contaminated by intestinal parasites, staff recommends enforcing the current ordinance — do not allow dogs on the municipal beach,” Fisher wrote.
Cutaneous larva migrans and Ancylostoma braziliense are parasites that belong to the hookworm family.
The latest position from the Parks and Recreation Department follows City Manager Don Cooper’s recommendation to city commissioners to reject the proposed pilot project. The issue, however, is still scheduled for a discussion at the commission’s workshop meeting on May 10.
Fisher’s reversal came as a surprise to leaders of Friends of Delray Dog Beach, who are planning a rally at 9 a.m. May 7 on A1A and Atlantic Avenue.
“It shocked all of us,” said Bob Brewer, who founded the 1,000-member group. “We thought we had the worst behind us, now we’re back to square one.”
Brewer said his organization had been working with Fisher and her department for more than a year and would strongly be in favor of creating a dog beach as a pilot project.
“All we wanted was a trial period,” he said.
Brewer also said that he and others in the informal group disagree with Fisher’s conclusion that parasites could be a health hazard. He said a member of the organization who is a physician and whose wife is a dermatologist both say the conditions cited by Fisher are extremely rare.
“Dog beaches are working all over the country,” he said.
Brewer said his organization is developing a strategy as it continues to advocate for a dog beach and plans to become more visible at commission meetings.
“We’re not giving up,” he said. “We have too much invested.”
By Rich Pollack